Marathons, like the Olympic games, have an interesting history tied into Greek mythology. It's not as cool as Hercules setting up a tournament to honor the King of Olympus, but it has a certain Hollywood charm.
The Myth of Pheidippides
Don't worry - I can't pronounce that name either.
According to legend, Hippias, the former tyrant of Athens, sought to take back his kingdom in 492 B.C.E. For sanity's sake, I'll try to avoid the dry details. The important point is when he landed on the shore of Marathon, the Athenians wiped the floor with him and his army.
They then sent a runner to Athens to spread the news. The runner, a soldier named Pheidippides, ran 24 miles on foot to the city of Athens, shouted, "Victory!" and then fell and died from exhaustion. In his honor, the man who carried the news of Athens' glory to his dying breath, the Athenians hosted an annual, commemorative 24 mile footrace.
The Facts of Pheidippides
As neat a story as that is, it's in no way true. Although recorded in Plutarch's The Glory of Athens, that story was written 550 yeas after the time Pheidippides was supposedly alive. On the other hand, Herodotus' Histories was written just 50 years after the time of Pheidippides, and Herodotus wrote something a little different.
Hero (short for Herodotus because I'm getting sick of typing these long Greek names, over and over again,) wrote about a long-distance runner sent from the Athenian army to Sparta to ask for reinforcement. On his way to Sparta, the runner, Phei (again, his name is too long,) encountered Pan, a Greek god. Pan asked why the Spartans weren't worshipping him anymore. Phei finished his run to Sparta, didn't die and told the Spartans to support the Athenians and to worship Pan. They agreed, and with the god Pan on their side, they defeated the tyrant Hippias at Marathon, and hosted the Marathon run in honor of the god, not Phei.
|Yep, Pan is a satyr. What is it with Greek athletics and goat-men?|
But wait, aren't modern marathons 26 miles long... What's this business about 24 miles? The distance from Marathon to Athens is 24 miles. The original marathon ran in honor of Pan was that same distance. The marathon was later adapted to the first modern Olympic games in 1896, hosted in Greece, remaining the 24 mile distance.
The extra two miles were added in 1908 when the Olympics were hosted in London. The distance was added so the race would go from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium.
Since 1908, 26 miles have been the standard distance for marathons.
|God save the queen... Right?|